Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 23 December 2000
NCCG no longer celebrates Hanukkah. For background information on this, please first read Our last Hanukkah.
Two thousand, one hundred and sixty four years ago a miracle took place in the land of Israel. It happened a century-and-a-half before Christ was born and resulted in the creation of what is known historically as the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom. It didn't last very long - less than a century, in fact, and was eventually crushed by the Roman General Pompey in 63 B.C. Twelve thousand Jews were massacred after Jerusalem fell and the Priests serving at the altar of the temple were struck down dead by the Roman soldiers. From that day on the Holy Land fell into pagan hands and remained under pagan control until liberated by the British under General Allenby two thousand years later in 1917.
Hanukkah is only mentioned once in the Bible and then under its alternative name, the Feast of the Dedication (of the Temple) (Jn.10:22) by which time it had been celebrated for nearly two hundred years. Because Hanukkah commemorates the purification and rededication of the Temple after its defilement by the Greek King Antiochus IV of Syria, Yah'shua (Jesus) deliberately chose that day to enter the Temple in Jerusalem knowing what that day meant to the Jews. As a result of what He preached that day, He nearly got Himself killed.
You will remember that Antiochus Epiphanes was an early antichrist who tried to force the Jews to abandon their religion and to follow Greek pagan customs. He made Sabbath worship illegal along with circumcision and other Israelite rites, and forced the priests to offer pigs instead of lambs to the pagan deity Zeus instead of our Heavenly Father, Yahweh. He wanted to transform all the cultures in his kingdom, including the Jewish one, into a Greek pagan. And last year, you may remember, I explained to you how the program of this wicked man is not at all unlike the program that will be imposed by the coming One World Government led by the the prophesied end-time Antichrist on all the citizens of the coming New World Order.
What is so special about Hanukkak for us, then? Why should we concern ourselves with a relatively unimportant rebellion that took place over two thousand years ago and remember a relatively insignificant miracle compared with, for example, the great and wonderful miracles performed by Yah'shua (Jesus)? What has a temple lamp miracuously burning for eight days instead of one got to do with us? Today I hope to show you why this festival is so important to Messianic Israelites, or Hebrew Christians like ourselves.
To begin with, as I pointed out to you in 1999 when we first celebrated Hanukkah here, this festival is to not remind us of a time of great persecution that has yet to befall Yahweh's people in the future but should inspire us to be thankful for the freedoms that we still enjoy. We should therefore be praising God that we can celebrate Hanukkah, the Sabbath, water baptism, and all our other festivals and ordinances openly in public without fear of death. How long we will be able to do this we don't know but the younger generation in this meeting place here today may well find themselves doing this secretly when they are grown-up. If that is true, as I firmly believe it is, then now is a good time to remind ourselves to be getting our spiritual houses in order so that we can be ready when the onslaught comes - as it will.
Last night we lit the shammash candle followed by the candle representing the first day of Hannukah. For the next few days we shall be enacting a kind of count-down until all eight candles are alight. Hidden up in this ceremony is a great truth for what we are in fact doing is recounting the whole of the history of the world as it has been and as it is to come.
Recently I taught you one of the mysteries lying behind the Lord's Prayer which we divided up into seven creation days. Just as each week is divided up into seven days, so the history of this planet is divided up into seven one thousand-year periods. We are almost at the end of the sixth thousandth year. The seventh day is, as you all know, the Sabbath Day - the day Yahweh has set aside for rest and special devotions to Him. Similarly, the seventh thousand year period will be what is called the Sabbath Millennium, a thousand years of peace free from all the war, hunger, disease and oppression that Satan and his demons have inflicted on us. Then comes the eight day, which is the Day of Eternity, the infinite period of time which is heaven for the saved, for hell for the damned.
In the Bible, eight is the number of the Resurrection, because it was on the eighth day relatively speaking that Yah'shua (Jesus) rose from the dead. You will recall that last night when I lit the shammash candle that I told you that this corresponded to the ligting in the Temple two thousand years ago of the Eternal Light, what in the Hebrew is called the Ner Tamid - a light that was always supposed to remain alight, symbolising God's eternal presence amongst His people when they are true and faithful.
You will remember also that the word shammash literally means "servant" - it is the servant candle used to light all the others one by one. That Servant is, of course, the Lord Yah'shua haMashiach (Jesus Christ), who came into the world to serve us. And you will also remember that He taught His disciples to serve one another just as He had done, and impressed this commandment on them by washing their feet, the most menial job of a servant in those days. Hanukkah is therefore to remind us that in order to qualify for Heaven we, like our Messiah, must become lowly servants, helping one another doing even the most humble tasks, whether cleaning the toilet, looking after the old, supporting orphans, or whatever. We are all called to be shammash, or as it is known in the Greek, diakonos, from which we get the English word 'Deacon'.
Bearing this in mind, it is particularly interesting to note the subject material that Yah'shua (Jesus) preached on at Hanukkah in the Jerusalem Temple. Once inside the temple, He gathered a crown around Him, and the Jews asked Him: "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" (Jn.10:24, NIV).
Now, why on earth did the people ask Yah'shua (Jesus) that question? This was His reply: "I did tell you, but you do not believe" (v.25a)
How often, I wonder, have people asked for confirmation that God exists, got that confirmation in an unmistakable sign, but still refused to believe? Here, on Hanukkah, the day when Yahweh dramatically intervened to save the nation of Judah from destruction by defeating the antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes, and by makink the oil in the Eternal Frame last for eight days instead of one, the descendants of those same Jews were asking for proof that Yah'shua was the Messiah (Christ). He rebuked them sternly and said, referring to the many far greater miracles that He had done amongst them: "The miracles I do in My Father's Name speak for Me, but you do not believe because you are not My sheep. My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of My hand" (vv.25b-28).
Yah'shua is that Eternal Light - the Ner Tamid - that at that very moment was burning in the temple which He was standing in, but the people He addressed did not realise it. That which the Ner Tamid represented on Hanukkah was standing there right in front of them! But the difference between Christ and that flame was that the Light of Christ never goes out in a true believer - burns for ever. And the reason that those Jews were blind to who Yah'shua was, was because they were not His sheep - they were not His disciples. They had already made their minds up and no amount of further evidence would have persuaded them. In actual fact, they were hell-bound, and proved that was so by what happened next.
Yah'shua (Jesus) continued saying: "My Father, who has given them [the sheep] to Me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of My Father's hand. I and My Father are one" (vv.29-30).
Do you realise how important these words are to us? Christ is telling us that those who are His true sheep are eternally safe because they have that eternal light burning within them. They cannot be lost! This is the doctrine of 'eternal security' and is what enables us as born-again Christians to spiritually rest and not worry about the next life.
The reaction of those Jews was demonic. The text says: "Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Yah'shua (Jesus) said to them: 'I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone Me?' 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God'" (vv.31-33).
Now if you aren't shaking your heads in disbelief then you ought to be. What a stupid answer this was - an answer that proved they were completely and utterly blind. Because the kinds of miracles Christ was doing were of the kind that only God could do! And He would, and the end of His ministry, prove absolutely that He was God-in-the-flesh by dying, rising from the dead, and filling His disciples with the Holy Spirit - His Spirit - so that they could do exactly the same miracles!
It is amazing, is it not, how supposedly rational and intelligent people can deny what is obvious to a little child, and the only explanation for that blindness is a condition that is man's most terrible enemy - stubbornness caused by PRIDE.
Well, Yah'shua ended that short Hanukkah discourse in the temple by exposing the stupidity of the Jews from their own Scriptures and then left them unharmed, crossing the River Jordan to the other side to the place where John had previously been baptising (v.40). Now the people here were not like those disbelieving, murderous Jews in the temple, but said: "'Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about this man was true.' And in that place many believed in Yah'shua (Jesus)" (v.41-42).
So there you have it. There were those of the orthodox faith, represented by the temple, who were servants of the devil and refused to believe, and then there were the simple folk, symbolically separated from the first by the River Jordan, who accepted and believedd in that spot where John the Baptist baptised people for repentance. The difference between the simple folk and the sophisticated folk was that that the former were humble and repented - they did not let pride and stubbornness stand in their way. The accepted the miracuous signs that Christ gave which were adequate testimony that He was the Son of God.
Now the only people who are able to see the truth are those who are shammash, the servant-types, the deacons and deaconesses, willing to do the menial jobs in life for love's sake. To believe required sacrifice, but that sacrifice requires courage and effort.
The Jews were oppressed by Antiochus Epiphanes so terribly that in the end they said: "Enough is enough!" and they arose in revolt. The carnal soul, who loves the world and makes compromises with it, will be oppressed just as those Jews were. Demons will plague them until they cry out, "No more!" and lern to do things God's way. Did Yahweh permit the Jews to suffer as they did under Antiochus Epiphanes? Yes, most certainly. And was that an act of love? Without a doubt, because it led them to do something about their condition. And when they finally reacted, the miracles started happening - they threw off the yoke of the tyrant militarily and Yahweh showed them a miracle in the Temple.
Three centuries later, when another foreign power occupied them - Rome - they tried the same thing but failed. They tried to imitate the Hosmoneans by rising in revolt time and time again, but this time they were utterly crushed and were finally expelled from the land of Israel to wander the globe for two thousand years. Why? Why didn't God intervene to help them as He did the Hasmoneans? Didn't the zealots copy their Hasmonean ancestors exactly? Yes they did, and that was the problem, because in the time between these two oppressions, the Messiah came, but instead of accepting Him, they rejected Him! Is it any wonder that things didn't work out the second time round?
Very often Christians do just the same thing today. They try to follow the example of their ancestors in the New Testament and then wonder why things go wrong. The trouble is, in the interim, God continues to speak to His people. He has new things He wants them to do to meet the needs of the times. Has Yahweh spoken to you and told you to do something that you haven't done? If he has, why haven't you done it?
Yesterday I was speaking with a man calling himself a Christian who asked me if there was any harm in studying African spiritualism alongside the Bible. He couldn't understand why His Christian faith was having problems! Sometimes I am astonished by the stupidity of people. What he was doing was no different from the former alcoholic going into bars to talk with alcoholics and wondering why he was starting to have an alcohol problem again. I told the man bluntly that he was playing a double game and that he had to chose the one or the other. Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself taught quite bluntly that you cannot serve two masters because you will end up loving one of them and hating the other. I have met so many Christians who say that Christ is first in their life when something else is. They profession of faith is no more than wishful thinking - it is not rooted in reality. Such people end up fighting a spiritual civil war and either throw out the idol in their lives, or reject Christ.
Hanukkah was confrontation time between unbelieving Jews and Christ, just as it had been earlier between believing Jews and pagans. The pagans refused to accept that Yahweh was the one and only true God because they believed in many gods, just as the Jews of Christ's time refused to believe that He was God-in-the-flesh. All they saw was the human, mortal Messiah because they were spiritually blind to the reality that He was God incarnate inspite of all the evidence. They wanted Christ to make a formal declaration that would convince them - as though that would have changed their minds at all. But He refused. All God ever promises us is that He will give us adequate evidence of who He is - He doesn't play our game - we have to play His. An He doesn't give us that evidence all in one go - He gives us a little here, and a little there, just as I am lighting these Hanukkah candle now (lights candles).
Look what happens as I light each candle - it gets progressively lighter until all the lights are lit. Yahweh will give us evidence of His existence and love for us throughout our life, a little here, and a little there, until He has given us all that He intends to give. The rest of life we have to walk by faith. He is there as the shammash light in the centre, towering above us, sometimes so high they we never see Him because we refuse to stretch our necks upwards enough. He is always near to a believer and if He appears far away it is usually because we have wandered away from Him, and not the other way round.
Yes, God will light the candles of truth in our lives to light the way forwards but it is up to us to choose to follow the path He has illuminated and it is up to us to make the effort to do so. God never served anyone who sat in a chair and did nothing. Those who do soon find themselves under attack by the enemy who which to exploit out inactivity to their advantage. Like the Hasmoneans, we have to take up the sword of the spirit and fight for our freedom. That fight is not easy, esperially if you are not clear about your enemy, or refuse to accept that something you thought was your friend is the very opposite.
One of the promises of Hanukkah is that if you do what the Lord tells you, equipping yourself for spiritual warfare in obedience to His commandments, you will witness miracles happening in your life. When the priests lit the Ner Tamid - the Eternal Flame - it burned for eight days instead of one, as though the oil invisibly replenished itself, rather like Christ multiplying the fishes and the loaves. Those who walk in the Lord find this oil replenishing itself within them. But what is this inner oil? Did Christ teach us anything about it? The answer is, yes, He did. And He did so by telling us a fascinating story called the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
You will recall, I am sure, that there was a wedding, and than then young virgin women were called to that wedding. They were, in fact, the brides about to be married to the bridegroom, and represent believers in Christ. The bridegroom is Christ Himself. Our relationship to Christ is depicted in the New Testament as a wedding. That is what this parable is about.
Of the ten brides, five did not make it, and you will recall that the reason they didn't make it was because they didn't have enough oil. For some reason, which I will explain next week, possessing that oil was a qualification for becoming a wife. Why was it so important? What did that oil represent? Who were the five wise virgins and who were the five foolish ones? Did they represent different types of Christians, and if so, what kinds? What about those who were shut out of the marriage feast? Is it possible that they went to hell? Can those who call themselves Christians go to hell? And if so, why? What must we do to become wise and enter the marriage feast, which is a picture of Heaven? Now the foolish virgins didn't seem to be particularly bad on the surface, only negligent - they did't bother to bring along any spare oil, so why were they cast out? And what has this to do with Hanukkah? Next Sabbath I will tell you about these ten women and who they in fact represent, and I think you will be both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised.
In the meantime, I really hope you all enjoy Hanukkah. This is, above all, a celebration of God's goodness to us. It is a Light Festival, reminding us that Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Light of the World who alone can safely lead us through increasingly evil times what will not be unlike the world of two thousand years ago when a demon-possessed pagan tried to wipe out the remnant of Yahweh's people in the Holy Land. There are plenty of aspirant Antoich Epiphanes's around today, and mercifully only a few have total power in some of the nations of the world, but they influence is increasing all the time. And there is one, waiting in the wings to seize his opportunity to assume the position as one world dictator, the famed Antichrist of the Book of Revelation. But, praise God, we have one who is stronger and mightier than any antichrist that Satan can produce, no matter how powerful, no matter how many false miracles he will be able to procure, and that is the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus). May He who is King of kings and Lord of lord protect and bless you until we meet again next Sabbath, is my prayer in His Name. Amen.
Click here for Part 2
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